“I’ve been thinking about this day for the past year, thinking about how I was going to do this and how I was going to make this special and unforgettable for you. No matter what scenario I pictured in my head, one question kept looming over me; why would you want to say yes? I can’t answer that because I’ve never been able to see in me what you do. I never thought I I’d need anyone in my life except for my parents but then you came into my life ruined everything. Now I can’t even think of a day going by where I can’t hear your voice. Because of you, I don’t just have my small family; I have our big one. This is definitely not how I expected this to go but we have our families here and we have each other so I couldn’t have asked for more. So, Stella O’Connor will…”
“Yes.” She quickly interrupted me as a stream of tears sped down her bruised face. The shaking of my hand holding my mother’s ring instantly died down as she said that simple three-lettered word.
“At least let me finish.” A tear escaped my eye as I looked into her saddened ones. We knew the inevitable was soon approaching but none of us were willing to accept it.
“You’re going to mess it up.” That got a reluctant chuckle out of me while she continued smiling despite the tears raining from her eyes.
“I mess up everything, that’s why you complete me so perfectly.”
“Yes.” She gave the answer to my unasked question again.
“Stella O’Connor, will you marry me?” I finally asked her.
“On second thought…” She released a short laugh as she watched my changing expression to her response.
“Screw you. We’re in this together now.” I gently placed my mother’s elegant ring on Stella’s finger before giving it a gentle kiss.
“I love you.” Why did those words sound so final? Why did she stare at me as if she was reliving all of our years together?
“We have the rest of our lives to tell each other that.” A single beep of machine was immediately silenced by one of the nurses in the room. Everyone else in the room seemed to be forgotten except for Stella. We were so lost in our own world as we spoke that I almost didn’t hear the slight noise of the machine.
“Be happy.” Her voice failed her but her lips worded the thoughts. I shook my head as more tears seemingly increased down my face.
“Not without you.” I stared into her slowly darkening eyes as the purity of light it once held began it’s closing act. Her smile still rested perfectly on her lips as she slowly closed her eyes and released the last breath of her lungs.
Time, the only thing that eluded me at that moment. The gnawing emptiness seemed to consume me as I stared at the lifeless body in front of me. Tears seemed to be an uncontrollable force every time I blinked. The unforgiving truth of knowing that I had all of her just a moment ago to now having none of her. I clutched her hand in mine hoping to squeeze some energy back into her just so that I could hear her voice one last time.
A hand gently gripped my arm, tearing my hand away from Stella’s. I turned my head then saw my father through my own tear-filled eyes. His mouth moved but I couldn’t hear anything around me.
Once again I found myself being trapped in my own body but this time I never wanted to escape. I didn’t want to find myself being brought back into a world where I couldn’t be with the only person I wanted to spend my life with.
This was my fault. I was to blame. If I didn’t allow her to take a cab instead of going to fetch her myself then this wouldn’t have happened. If I didn’t give in to her and let her control me then this wouldn’t have happened. This was my fault.
“… son, Hunter look at me.” Me father stood in front of me. I was so out of it that I didn’t even see him move between me and Stella’s stationary body.
“I need to go.” Where I needed to go to was a mystery to me but I just needed to get out of this unforgiving situation. I needed to get out of the morbid atmosphere that had made itself comfortable in the room. I needed to go.
I found myself ripping my arm out of my father’s grasp then marching down the halls without a second thought. No turning back, no being persuaded, nothing stopping me. Yet I find another silent hand grab my own then began leading through the maze of hallways in the hospital. Tears continuing to stream down my cheeks as my head filled with a sense of hopelessness. For the first time in my life I was unable to see any kind of future for myself. The forced happiness Stella pushed into my heart began dissipating with every unwilling step I took.
Then a tight embrace surrounded me. Warm arms clothed me as I lowered my head to rest on her shoulder. One hand rustling my hair as another rubbed my back and all I could do was break down. The tsunami of emotions reached it’s peak and broke forth as I finally accepted Stella’s death. My lame arms finally sprung to life as I gripped whoever it was and continued pouring out my emotions.
“She’s dead and there’s nothing we can do about it.” A female voice, why would she say that? I already felt like a broken shell of a man so there was no need to destroy me any further. Every single piece of me was bound to be destroyed with every shattering tear so she didn’t need to accelerate the process.
“This pain you’re feeling is only child’s play compared to what you’re going to feel.”
“Shut up! Just shut up.” I pleaded as my tears began dampening her shoulder.
“There’s no running away from this Hunter. Stella is gone.” And there it was. The final release of my heart as I gave in to the unrelenting darkness of death. Stella has always had all of me so and now that she was gone, there was none of me left.
“What do I do now?” My voice was low and unemotional. It almost made me think that I hadn’t voiced the question plaguing my mind.
“Continue living.” Easier said than done right now. How do you continue living when your future died right in front of you? How do you continue doing anything when your purpose in life was blown away with one final breath?
“It might seem impossible now but it will get easier.”
“For a doctor, you really suck at sympathy.” My words might’ve been harsh but my body still clung to hers looking for any source of hope. I didn’t know what I what to feel or what I was feeling right now. Whatever it was, it just wasn’t real.
“I’m still learning. I’m not even supposed to be doing this right now.”
“Why are you doing this then?”
“I don’t know. I guess we’re friends. I mean, you’re friends with my sister so that kind of makes us friends by association if that’s a thing.” No matter how much I wanted to smile right now, my body just wasn’t cooperating with me anymore. All I could do was wallow in my stupid self pity.
“Ready to go back?” I really didn’t want to do that. I didn’t want to confront the truth of the situation right now or ever for that matter. I probably will never be ready to confront it.
“I want to go somewhere far away from here.” I slowly began releasing her so that I could continue on my own and so that she can get back to work.
“I’m okay Naomi.” I tried assuring her but I wasn’t so sure of it myself.
“No you’re not.” She grabbed my hand again then began pulling me down the hallways again.
“Where are we going?”
“Away from here.”
The next week seemed to pass by one painfully sad day after the next but thankfully everything just blurred and molded into one sorrowful memory that I wanted to forget. My parents were being extremely supportive and I appreciated their effort but I just wanted to be left alone and try to work through my pain on my own no matter how stupid it was. There was no place I could escape to that didn’t remind me of some sort of memories that Stella and I shared. I burst into tears every time I stepped into my room as I looked at all of Stella’s things scattered about it. There wasn’t a moment that passed by that I didn’t think about her. I wanted to hear her joyful voice one more time even if all she did was shout at me or complain about one of my many flaws. I’d give anything just to feel her touch again. The warmth of her fingers that ignited the love in my dormant heart right now. I just needed her.
“What are you doing here?” A voice asked me as I sat on the porch in the backyard of my house. I had a glass of red wine in my hand while the bottle rested on the ground at my feet. The voice sounded female but I honestly didn’t care who it was. I was alone at home, until now that was, and I wanted it to stay that way but clearly everyone else had other plans for me.
“It’s my house.” I tiredly responded as I continued staring at the tarp clipped over the pool in the yard.
“I know, I just mean why are you here? Everyone is at the O’Connor’s.”
“Clearly not everyone.” I took a sip of the dark liquid and hoped that it drowned some of my pain as it travelled down my throat.
“Is it that obvious?” I knew I was being sarcastic but I didn’t care about anything right now. I still didn’t even know who I was talking to. It could be a ghost for all I knew. I lost track of how much I’ve drank so maybe I was just talking to myself.
“Why are you drinking?”
“There was a glass and a bottle of wine so ta-da.”
“Hunter, this is not you.” Naomi immediately came into view then grabbed the bottle by my feet. I guess I wasn’t hallucinating the voice.
“You don’t even know me.”
“But I know what you’re going through.” She stood over me as she stared down at me but I honestly couldn’t care less about what I said or did right now.
“Up until a moment ago, I was going through that bottle. If you’d let me continue, you can have it back when it’s empty.” A devilish smile appeared on her face before she lifted the bottle up and began pouring the strong liquid over my head. It splashed its way down the suit I was wearing but I just sat there and allowed her to do it. The quicker she did what she wanted to, the sooner she would be gone.
“That was a waste.” I drained my glass of the rest of its contents once the bottle was empty.
“Just like your life is going to be if you don’t get yourself together.” She was probably right but as usual, it’s not what I wanted to hear right now.
“What are you even doing here?”
“I heard Stella’s funeral was today so I wanted to come check up on you. I’m on my lunch break so I went to the O’Connor’s but your parents said that you’d be here.” That was an unnecessarily detailed explanation.
“Well now you’ve seen me so you can exit the same way you came in.”
“And leave you here to turn into a drunkard? I don’t think so. I became a doctor to save lives, not watch people ruin them.” That angered me for some reason. I had a feeling that it was more the alcohol in my system right now that triggered it but I wasn’t going to back down. She clearly wanted a reaction out of me so I was going to give her one.
“Then why didn’t you save Stella’s life? Or do you only save certain people who you think is good enough?” Unsurprisingly, a slap was thrown my way. It probably should’ve hurt more than it did but I’d definitely feel it once I was sober again.
“Don’t you dare accuse me of that ever again. I do my best to help everyone I can including your ungrateful ass. Stella was beyond saving. She was paralyzed from the neck down. Her organs were failing one after the other. It was a miracle that she was able to stay alive for as long as she did. If there was a way to save her then I would’ve done so without a second thought.”
“That’s easy to say when she’s not here anymore.”
“Well she wanted you to be happy so that’s what I’m going to make sure of. I couldn’t help her but I can make sure that her dying wish comes true.”
“I guess you’re going to have to leave her disappointed then doctor because my happiness died with her.”
“I don’t believe that. You just think that you can’t be happy without her and you will never be as happy as that again. But that’s the point, you’re going to be happy and you will be even happier than you were again but only you can allow yourself to feel like that.”
“So all I have to do is block you out? That works for me.”
“Good luck with that.” She set the bottle down on the ground then grabbed my arm and pulled me up from the chair I was resting on.
“Why are you doing this to me? Do you like terrorizing me?” I asked her as she dragged me into the house.
“You need a shower.”
“Stella must’ve been a saint if she could put up with you.” That evoked a smile out of me rather than anger. There were so many times where I expected Stella to walk away from me because of the way I was acting or treating yet she stayed and endured every single bit of it then continued loving me.
“She didn’t have to put up with this. She went about things in a much more… respectful way.” If looks could kill then Naomi just threw me down the stairs we were climbing.
“I'll admit, my methods right now aren’t the best but given the circumstances, I think some tough love is necessary.”
“I’d believe that if you weren’t enjoying this so much.”
“Enjoying this?” She immediately stopped us in front of my bedroom door and looked straight into my suffering eyes. “You think I like this? I hate seeing people suffering like you are right now. I hate that you will never be the same person that you were when I first met you last week. I hate this but one of us has to be strong enough to help the other one so I’ll do what it takes to get you back on your feet again.”
“As you can see, my feet are not the problem.”
“Just that dumb brain and broken heart of yours.” Couldn’t say that she was wrong there. “The first
step is getting you into a shower so go clean yourself.”
“Yes ma’am.” I replied as we entered my dull bedroom. I unenthusiastically dragged myself to my bathroom then started my shower before taking off my wine-soaked suit.
“You have a lot of books.” Naomi loudly commented. She was clearly going to stay and keep talking unfortunately. “I’m surprised Michaela didn’t say anything about it.”
“She nearly knocked me unconscious with one of them.” I stated then stepped into the shower but I heard Naomi release a short laugh at my reply.
“She told me all about that.” I almost forgot about everything that happened between our two families last week. It was to be expected I suppose but Naomi was right, I needed to move on and keep living no matter how difficult that was going to be.
“Why are there books with blank covers?” I saw her resting against the doorframe as she held one of the books in her hands.
“They’re special. Put it back.” I casually replied as I let the warm water cascade down my body.
“Well there’s one missing I think, besides this one in my hands.”
“It’s probably somewhere in my room. Those books don’t ever leave my room so put it back.” I instructed her again.
“Why so defensive about books?” She skeptically eyed me as she waited for my response. I was glad that she wasn’t talking about Stella’s death and how it made me feel anymore but this was a topic that I didn’t want to discuss right now as well.
“They’re my books. Just put it back.”
“I will.” She replied but eyed me as I leaned against the wall of the shower. I didn’t feel like doing anything other than just letting the water rain down on me.
“Any plans on going back to work?” Naomi clearly wasn’t going to allow me to just dwell in the silence for a while. Maybe she was scared of the demons that lurked in the quiet.
“My parents said that I can take the rest of the month off I wanted to.” Yep, they were being way to considerate about this whole process but it was understandable I guess.
“Are you going to?”
“I don’t know.” That was as honest as it got. I didn’t know what my next step was or if there even was a next step. It felt like the stairs I was climbing with Stella just collapsed when she took her last breath so there was nowhere else for me to go.
“You could join a support group you know.” Not a bad suggestion considering the circumstances but not one I wanted to hear right now.
“Isn’t it a bit premature to be suggesting that?”
“Really? You were drowning yourself in a bottle of wine when I got here so I think this is the perfect time.” I turned to look at her but she had an arrogant smile plastered on her face.
“Whatever.” I pushed myself off the wall then decided to wash me. I wasn’t planning on doing anything else for the rest of the day but I didn’t want to smell like wine, especially not when my parents came home. As long as I looked and smelled good then no one would suspect that anything is wrong right?
“We don’t really know each other…”
“You can say that again.” I quickly chirped in which earned me a rather unpleasant gaze.
“As I was saying, we don’t really know each other so if you want a stranger to talk to or someone that won’t judge you then you can always call me.” I appreciated the offer but I just wanted to be left alone. This was my grief so no one else needed to concern themselves with it.
“Does that mean that you’ll only check up on me if I give you a call?”
“No, I’ll still pop in regularly to check how you’re doing and to make sure that you’re not throwing your life away.” She was definitely going to be irritating. “You’re not getting rid of me that easily.”
“It was worth a try.”